Wednesday, June 16, 2010

50 Year Counterparts, Pt. 7- HOF Edition

1961 Topps #120 Eddie Mathews

This 50 Year Counterparts entry is the Hall Of Fame edition, featuring deceased HOF'er Eddie Mathews and future HOF'er Chipper Jones.

Known for his graceful swing and prodigious power, Eddie Mathews holds the distinction of being the only Brave to play for the team in each of the three cities it has called home. He was also only one of a few players to have played, coached, and managed the same team. HOF'er Ty Cobb once paid tribute to Mathews by saying "I've only known three or four perfect swings in my time. This lad has one of them." 'Tis surprising to hear the hardened Georgia Peach speak such words of praise! It's a surprise that Cobb didn't comment on Mathews' toughness, as Eddie was never one to back down from a fight.

As a rookie in 1953, which would be the last year the Braves would call Boston home, Mathews hit 25 home runs and finished tied for third in the N.L. Rookie of the Year award. The Braves would relocate to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, and would see their young third baseman begin an incredible three-year run in which he put up some of the most dominating numbers of any third baseman over a three year span. Mathews would end his sophomore season leading the league in homers with 47, an OPS of 1.033 and finish 2nd in the N.L. MVP voting. In 1954 the moody Milwaukee fan favorite would grace the cover of the very first issue of Sports Illustrated and would would play an instrumental part in the Braves' ascension to glory as they won back-to-back pennants in '57 (World Series Champs!) and '58. Mathews would then have one of his best seasons in 1959, as he finished second in MVP voting and leading the N.L. in home runs. The 1961 season would be the last season Mathews would hit over .300 and post an OPS higher than .900, and the Braves began their slide to the back of the pack in the National League. Mathews suffered torn ligaments in his right shoulder in 1962, and it was after this injury that he would see a decline in production. He would be traded by the Braves to the Astros in the 1966 offseason, and would spent half a season in Houston before being traded to the Tigers. Eddie's final season would be 1968, and despite getting only 57 plate appearances in the regular season that year, he would still get a roster spot for the Tigers as they faced St. Louis in the World Series. Mathews would go 1-3 with a BB that World Series, and would then retire afterwards, becoming only the third Hall of Famer to retire as a World Series winner. He would also end his career at number seven on the all-time home run list with 512 round trippers, falling way short of the 714 of Ruth that many had predicted would some day be Mathews' record.

Upon retirement, Mathews would go into business for a short time before returning to the game in 1971 as a coach for the Braves. The following season, Eddie would replace Lum Harris 104 games into the season as the manager for Atlanta, and would remain in that position until 1974, when he would be replaced by Clyde King after 99 games- but not until after Henry Aaron broke Ruth's home run record in April. Four years later,in 1978, Mathews would be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in his fifth year of elgibility-something that I just don't understand. Sadly, in February 2001, Mathews would die at the age of 69 due to pneumonia and respiratory failure.


2010 Topps Heritage #120 Chipper Jones


Most of the talk about Chipper Jones this year has been centered on his supposed retirement at the end of the season. Although Chipper has seen his batting average and power decline over the past few years- he hit a career high .364 only two years ago, for his first batting title- he's still providing some help by getting on base in front of Brian McCann and the remerging Troy Glaus by drawing a fair share of walks. The consumate team player, Chipper had reportedly told manager Bobby Cox earlier this season that he would be willing to move down in the order if it would help the team. It never materialized, and he has remained in the three-hole when he has been in the line-up. Should Chipper announce his retirement at the end of the Braves' 2010 season, it will be interesting to see if he is offered (and accept) some kind of role within the organization. I can't help but think he'd be a great hitting coach- it would be nice to see his impact and influence upon Jason Heyward this year be extended upon future Brave position players.

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